Friday, January 15, 2010

Microscan Opens Northeast Technology Center: Electronics Major Focus

(January 15, 2010) NASHUA, NH — Renton, WA-based Microscan opened its Northeast Technical Center in Nashua yesterday. The company provides technology and hardware for data acquisition and control, including machine vision and go/no-go inspection applications. Microscan acquired the Machine Vision business of Siemens in late 2008, gaining a 20,000 sq. ft. facility in Nashua, NH. This Technology Center now includes a product demonstration room, engineering labs, training space for customers and distributors, as well as offices. Microscan president Jeff Timms notes that the electronics industry will be one of their top three end-use sectors, where Microscan’s vision systems can be used to improve incoming inventory management, tracking and traceability, inspection, and counterfeit prevention.

The Nashua, NH facility will be used for R&D on machine vision, machine vision lighting, direct part mark (DPM) reading, and verification technologies. The company currently holds 85 patents, with 30 more pending. Its Northeast Technology Center will have four PhDs on staff.

The East Coast location was dedicated by Vision Systems Design editor Andy Wilson (seen at left with Timms), who referenced the region’s long history with machine vision innovation, welcoming another chapter in this technology evolution. Timms echoed this sentiment, stating that talented employees have been continuously joining the organization even through the economic recession. New employees include Mark Ragard, regional sales manager; John Macrena, VP of sales; Al Silva, director of Latin America; and John Cooley, strategic accounts. Microscan also recognized VP of Engineering William R. Riley Jr., who passed away after a battle with cancer, by dedicating the new facility’s conference room in his honor.

In the training room, customers and distributors are able to see firsthand the technologies in use. Things like lighting and geometries are difficult to describe over the phone or online, explained Microscan staff, and this East Coast location will enable more in-depth training on new products and applications. In the electro-engineering labs, R&D personnel work with challenging parts marks, such as a data matrix code on clear plastic, miniaturized labels on components, already assembled on a PCB, codes on shiny copper foil, and other applications, such as steel automotive parts, pistol bodies, dental implants, and more. Different markings on different surfaces require different colors and types of light for accurate reading. In the product room, interactive displays demonstrate this point. From simple ring and dome lights, the products advance to mobile scanners that cycle through several lighting options to get the best read on a particular part, visual inspection stations that track fiducials and areas of interest on a PCB, for example, regardless of the product’s rotation when placed under inspection.

The Electronics Sector
Microscan will focus on end-user applications in electronics manufacturing, life sciences, and automotive, in the interest of developing products as driven by these markets. In electronics manufacturing, assembly/part verification, robot guidance, and PCB traceability can benefit from machine vision systems and controlling software. Microscan offers product-level readers for barcode/DPM data as well as middleware, such as its Track, Trace, Control (TTC) software co-developed with Cogiscan. This allows users to find where a specific product is, where it has been, and where it should go based on the information collected. Al Silva, director, Latin America for Microscan, noted that electronics manufacturers are adding TTC to satisfy strict quality standards in automotive and military electronics manufacturing, to reduce inventory waste, and to improve beat rates of SMT lines. With data from every step synthesized in a software environment, an assembler can ensure lead-free solder is being used on the correct printer, with the correct PCB, which is then populated by the correct components for the job. Through-hole components, often manually inserted, can be scanned quickly for correct placement and polarity with a go/no-go machine vision system. With 5 or 6 product flow control scans on a line, the user can manage assembly with capital-equipment-independent machine vision.

Counterfeit component control was another electronics application, described by Dr. Ludlow, who noted that the more information and detail put into a part marking, the more difficult it is to replicate. UV-light markings can also be used as a non-visible data label, adding more security in the authenticity of parts. This can improve incoming inspection for any electronics manufacturer working in high-reliability sectors.

In addition to machine-independent applications, Microscan’s vision systems can be embedded into in-circuit testers (ICT) and functional test (FT) systems, optically verifying presence of components and augmenting the test processes.

Meredith Courtemanche, executive editor

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